With a UFC contract under his belt and a hamburger named after him, unbeaten Montreal welterweight Yohan (White Lion) Lainesse is already making his mark.
Lainesse, with former UFC contender Patrick (The Predator) Cote in his corner, won his way into the UFC with a 97-second knockout on Dana White's Contender Series in November. Now the two look to continue their winning ways Saturday on a televised Fight Night card in Las Vegas where Lainesse (8-0-0) makes his UFC debut against American (Gifted) Gabe Green (10-3-0).
Lainesse earned his UFC contract in November by stopping previously unbeaten English fighter Justin Burlinson with a nasty left hook to the chin that wobbled Burlinson, then slowly sent him to the canvas.
The Contender Series, held at the UFC Apex production facility, offers fighters a chance to impress the UFC president — and possibly earn a UFC deal.
"This kid (Burlinson) is a stud, he's a savage. You finished him," White told Lainesse, a 5-1 underdog on the night.
The 29-year-old Quebecer says getting his UFC contract has not changed his life — yet.
"The goal is the same," he said. "Of course, that (win) gives me a lot more confidence. But I don't have a lot more money in my pocket. I have the same team around me. It's a small circle. So life is the same."
Saturday's main even pits American Rob Font, ranked fifth among bantamweight contenders, against No. 8 Marlon (Chita) Vera of Ecuador.
Font weighed in at 138.5 pounds, 2.5 pounds about the bantamweight non-title weight limit. He will forfeit 20 per cent of his purse to Vera, who weighed in at 136.
Also on the undercard, Canadian featherweight Tristan (Boondock) Connelly takes on American Darren (The Damage) Elkins (26-10-0), a 12-year UFC veteran whose record in the promotion is 16-9-0.
A former hockey player, Lainesse is no stranger to fighting. "I didn't only fight. I also scored goals," he recalled.
While Lainesse started boxing and taekwondo at a young age, his parents were not keen on him focusing on combat sports. As a result he did not start training MMA seriously until he was 23.
"I think I learned very, very fast … And I was always in the gym," he said.
After posting a 5-0-0 record as an amateur, he had his first MMA pro bout in August 2018. He landed in the deep end with his second fight, a first-round KO win over Sean Meade in December 2018 in a TKO promotion at the Bell Centre.
Wanting to secure a regional title before turning his attention to the UFC, Lainesse switched to the Cage Fury Fighting Championships and won its welterweight championship belt last July in Philadelphia by dethroning Evan (The Butcher) Cutts by second-round TKO in his last outing before the DWCS win.
It marked the first time Cutts had been stopped in 17 pro fights.
"That put me in a good zone and told me I'm ready for the big leagues," said Lainesse.
In part, Lainesse has been a victim of his own success., Only two of his eight fights have gone the distance, with five ending in the first round.
Lainesse focused on training full-time ahead of the Burlinson fight, putting previous coaching duties aside.
He has support behind him. Two dollars from every "White Lion burger" — a pork and beef meatball with Swiss cheese, sriracha and bacon mayo, onion ring and marinated cabbage — sold at the Mechante Viree Resto Pub, one of his sponsors, in the Montreal suburb of Varennes goes to the fighter.
Lainesse takes the burger seriously. He has tweaked the recipe three times.
Green is coming off a win over Philip (The Fresh Prince) Rowe in February at UFC 258 that evened his UFC record at 1-1-0. He has won seven of his last eight bouts.
"He's a brawler. He loves to swing — hooks, overhands, uppercuts," said Lainesse. "He puts on a lot of pressure, but he gets touched (by strikes). The guy gets touched a lot. And when I touch, people fall."
Having fought at the Apex in November, Lainesse will be in familiar surroundings Saturday.
"For me, it's not my UFC debut," he said. "For me it's the second fight … I had a great start Nov. 2. I'm just going to continue with that start, I feel very confident. I feel like I'm at home."
Lainesse says he has benefited from the experience of Cote, whom he calls his head coach. Cote fought 21 times in the UFC, with a loss to middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 90 in 2008 — Cote injured his knee and was unable to continue in the third round — on his resume.
"He's helped me a lot … He knows the game. He was on my path before," said Lainesse. "I can't ask for a better man."
Lainesse, who also works with striking coach Levis Labrie, currently trains out of three gyms but is about to open his own facility, Academie Connexion, in suburban Montreal.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press